We all experience creative lulls from time to time, and sometimes, a good break is in order, so we spend a few days or weeks focusing on things other than art. Whatever the case may be, when you’ve not been engaged in art for a while, it takes a little bit to get back into the swing of things. It’s like going on vacation and then coming back to work. Your mind is still in “vacation mode” even though a whole different set of tasks is now in front of you. This is something that anyone in a creative line of work experiences from time to time, and some of us experience it on a daily basis—that moment in the day where you’re not at your most productive, and the art and creative ideas just don’t flow as freely.
That’s why I think “warm up” exercises are a helpful tool in our arsenals. These are little things we can do to keep the creative gears turning so that when it’s time to really think critically about artmaking, we don’t find ourselves seizing up. So to that end, here are a few ideas for exercises that you can do. Some of these things are pre-shoot exercises, and other exercises are things you can use to get over a lull after you’ve had a longer break from photography.
Warming Up Before a Photo Shoot
Even though they’ve spent weeks or months training prior to a game or a race, athletes still warm up on the big day. I think photographers can benefit from a similar sort of exercise. That is, when you reach your destination, or on the day of a photo shoot that you have scheduled, it could be beneficial to spend a little bit of time warming up before you delve into the main event.
So how would a photographer go about a pre-shoot warmup? If the images you plan to take are centered around a certain location, then your warmup could be to simply wander around and take a few unplanned shots of things that catch your eye before you focus on the main things that you really wanted to photograph. Or, if you’re photographing people, then one way to limber up would be to take a few candid images before you start on posed portraits. Other warmup activities include going over your shot list so that your mental plan for the day is in order, or double checking the items in your gear bag—because we’ve all brought filters and other small pieces of equipment along that we forgot we packed until after the shoot was finished!
Photography Projects as a Long-Term Regimen
What about those times when you’re taking an extended break from intensive artmaking? These are good times to embark on photo-a-day projects, or a project that involves creating so many images per month. For beginners, these sorts of projects are an invaluable way to develop your photographic style as you learn about composition and the mechanical aspects of photography, but for experienced people, these are good ways to keep your creative eye from getting rusty.
In essence, what a long-term exercise project should do is keep you observant. If you set yourself a goal of creating a new photograph each day, or a few each month, then that’s something that is always at the back of your mind. This awareness leads to you paying closer attention to the world around you, and ultimately, the power of observation is the photographer’s greatest tool. It’s sort of like being a musician. Sure, the concert may only happen once, but you still need to practice the music each day leading up to the performance so that you don’t lose your edge. In the same way, photographers can benefit from making photographs even when they’re not actively working on a larger art project just to keep their skills honed.
Designing Your Own Routine
Of course, we’re all different, with different needs, so if the suggestions above don’t work for you, you can always design exercises that do keep your creative mind working. Or, you could design exercises around a particular skill that you’d like to polish. Try giving yourself small assignments centered around a certain aspect of photography, just to get you out making images as you perfect those skills.
In one assignment, you could try to include as many colors in each frame as possible, just to see the kind of variety that you can achieve. If you enjoy black and white photography, then maybe you’ll want to revisit Ansel Adam’s tonal range and try to take a series of images that includes each shade in the range. Or, if off-camera lighting is something that you’re not quite so confident about, then make a commitment to drag out the off-camera lights once a week and set up a simple shoot that gets you thinking about the direction of the light, diffusion, reflection and all the other things that go along with it. There are lots of different exercises you can do and goals that you can set for yourself. These things will help you grow your skill set while keeping your creative mind working.
Just like your body, your creative mind needs to be kept in shape, too. And just like with physical exercises, there are any number of ways to achieve “creative fitness.” The key is to find the exercises that not only keep your mind thinking in creative tracks, but also those exercises that you’ll enjoy doing. After all, a routine is much more difficult to keep up with if you’re just not interested in it. So think about small ways to add a little more photography to your life, or remember to warm up before a big photo shoot, and you’ll be in shape in time for the larger project.